Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Alright, I feel like a hypocrite. Yes, I am guilty of making fun of the "girlfriend" in the ads, and asking "what kind of idiot is she"? So, I apologize . . . I take it all back, for now, I am that girl in the ad, sitting amazed at Uncharted 2. Seriously, this is one of the best videogames I have ever seen, and definitely the best video game we have played in class. The storyline is fantastic, the characters have depth and charisma, the graphics supersede all expectations and most of all, I really did feel like I was watching a movie. Of all games that can be analyzed as art, Uncharted 2 may pass the "Henry Jenkins" test.

First of all is the storyline. Henry Jenkins stipulates that a game must go past all the clichés and pratfalls to truly be considered an art form; the storyline of Uncharted 2 meets this criteria. The Tarantino-esque flow of narration- shifting the time and/or location- is apparent from the first few chapters. The flashbacks added a dimension to the plot- thus contributing to the art of the game. This cinematography move is unlike any other video game I have seen and is one of the few, if only, video game that has accomplished such a feat.

Next come the characters and their dialogue, which are above par. The characters are interesting in the fact that they rise above their two-dimensional life and transform into three-dimensional individuals. Nathan Drake, the protagonist, along with Chloe Frazer (his on/off partner), add a depth to the story due to their often sarcastic, humorous and witty dialogue. Sully, Drake's partner, quips along with more clever lines, creating a trio that bounce lines off of one another with ease. This development meets another criterion of Jenkins; creating characters that players actually care about and believe in. Having only played six chapters, I have already grown an affinity for these characters, and if by the end of the game one of them was to reach their demise, it would truly impact me.

Most apparent is the quality of the graphics. It is obvious that developers for Uncharted 2 went beyond the call of duty and gave gamers what they have been clamoring for; a game that looks, feels and acts real. Without a doubt, the graphics pulled me in the most, because I really did feel as if I were enjoying a cinematic experience. If I had not known that one of my fellow students was playing, I would never have guessed Uncharted 2 was a video game.

Uncharted 2 is, and should be, considered an art form. If the future of gaming is a world of similar games, then no one will be able to discredit the growing field of video games. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this game, and would look forward to one day playing it to find out if I can draw out even more from the experience.

Fair Play: Race

In this section of Fair Play? our class discussed race relations in video games. In the same manner that violence and gender may have an impact on players, so does the racial makeup of games. Racial depictions are very important, and the statistics provided in Fair Play? are once again enlightening. Not surprising, more than half (56%) of all human characters in the study were white and white female characters outnumbered female characters of every other racial group (22). This effectively shunned many other groups, with no Latina characters to be found, virtually rendering Native Americans invisible and creating Asian/Pacific Islanders characters that were mainly computer-controlled props, bystanders and villains. Racial stereotypical roles also seem to be enforced in games with nearly every video game hero white, Latino characters only appearing in sport games, Asian/Pacific characters as wrestlers or antagonists and almost all African American males portrayed as competitors, while most African American females were non-action characters (22). These stats are disheartening, especially when analyzing them against the racial makeup of players, which is vastly different. As noted in a previous post, a recent study by NewScientist magazine also supports the information found in the Fair Play? article. This calls for an immediate analysis of what video games are showing of society and how change can be brought to it. If video games are recreating our world, then they must do it accurately and fairly. It is not only with the racial makeup, but with gender and violence as well. Video games must rise above the stereotypes, with developers giving honest thought and critique to how they will create their future projects. It is not only developers that need to step up to the plate, but society as well, for we must all ask ourselves why we have let such a practice go on for so long. The Fair Play? article brings up valid points; we must no longer simply ignore the stereotypical practices that plague video games, but take up the challenge of revolutionizing the field.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

So after playing Grand Theft Auto I have learned two things: no. 1 "Vice City" is Miami (which I had not known!) and no. 2 if one is looking for a love it or hate it kind of game, GTA is it. Simply, the developers of this game have taken every stereotype of ethnicities, violence, gender, etc., put it into a blender and hit purée. Granted, less than an hour of the game was played during class, but an hour might be enough. Of the hour I did see a Columbian drug deal occurred; I learned my objective was to hit hookers and kill bums and that all cops are white and male. It not only ended there, but once the time came for the protagonist to visit Little Haiti and Havana, every stereotype of Caribbean lifestyle was once again evoked. The game is a double-edged sword: I want to play and find out more, but at the same time I'm afraid of what else may come flying out of this Vice City world. I do not want to be a hyprocrite and easily dismiss GTA, seeing as it is one of the biggest selling games to hit the industry, so I thought I should actually find out what the game is about. After speaking to a gamer that has completed Vice City, it sheds a new light on game play that was shown during class. This gamer (Aaron) stipulates GTA is more than simply a crusade of hooker and bum killings, but rather one that supersedes the storyline. In this fantasy world, one can live out their alter ego as a criminal, experience side missions of vigilante hunts and immerse themselves in the drug-fueled era of 80s Miami. It may not be the type of game for me, but for others, this type of game can have the same effect as the drugs they are carting: it is an addicting rush that provides a high like nothing else.

Violence & Pop Culture

The question of any correlation between violent video games and children has been on the forefront for atleast a decade, especially after the shocking acts of Columbine High School. In this week's discussions two different aspects of the debate were approached. In The Uses and Abuses of Popular Culture: Raising Children in the Digital Age, Henry Jenkins approaches the subject in a clear and level headed manner, peeling away the assumptions about violence in popular culture. In the violence section of the Fair Play? article, tangible connections are made between the statistically proven violence in video games and the affects they have upon players. While reading both articles I had different impressions, and would probably draw out the best from Fair Play? and Uses and Abuses of Popular Culture.

Henry Jenkins brings several ideas about video games that interest me intensely, especially his attack on the "simplistic claims so often made by media effects researchers" (28). I agree with his theory that "our relations to media content are complex, contradictory, and often unpredictable" (28). Most important, he states that each one of us will intrepret the media in a different manner, in a personal meaning that draws from our distinct backgrounds. One aspect especially revealing in Jenkin's article was his comparison of the Internet to the telephone. It was a surprise the large number of Americans who believed the Internet was partly responsible for the Columbine shootings. Written almost a decade ago, we can't help but laugh at the absurdity of such a comment, but it showcases brilliantly the manner in which adults fear new technology. Video games are growing exponentially and it is no surprise that adults may fear it in the same manner. What I especially liked about Jenkin's article were his steps towards "creating opportunities for serious conversations about the nature of children's relationships with popular culture" (32). Of those mentioned, especially relevant to me were the creation of a more accepting and accomadating climate in schools, more information be provided to parents about the content of media products and the challenging of the entertainment industry to investigate more fully why violent entertainment appeals to young consumers (32-33).

With these great ideas in mind, I then moved on to the Fair Play? article, but did not interpret the same message. Granted, the statistics in the sample are startling, and definietly warrant a second look. The article focused on the predominance of violence (89% contained some kind of violence), consequences of violence (91% of killings were justified and no consequences) and the use of weapons. One distinct connection between the previous article is the investigation of the ratings system utilized for video games. According to the research conducted, "E" games are not always appropriate for everyone, stating that "more than three fourths of games . . . contained violence, nearly half . . . included characters who used weapons, more than one third . . . included characters with some body exposure [and games] lacked gender and racial diversity" (9).

As shown, both articles have distinct ideas of how violence is interpreted by its video game audience. Although the Fair Play? article is enlightning, I believe that their main objective was to throw out statistics that would scare away anyone questioning the role of violence. The same statistics that they "prove" for video games can be said of our society in general. Simply watch the 5 o'clock news and one can witness violence in all its glory, yet that is not investigated. This is where Jenkins, I believe, is important because he would utilize the statistics found by the research and put them into use. The information discovered should be analyzed, probed and then analyzed again. Only by truly investigating the ties between video games and its players will any real knowledge be attained. As Dr. Campbell elucidated:

The right questions are not being asked . . . at the same time there is also no singular answer!

Fair Play: Gender

The section of the article Fair Play discussed in class was gender. Quite often impressions are made of video games, but it was startling to see the actual statistics displayed so prominently. Although this article was written several years ago, the information is still relevant in today's video game world. The most startling statistic shows that in a sampling of "Male & Female Characters", males account for 64%, non-human for 19% and 17% for females. While discussing Player-Controlled Characters, males account for 73%, non-human for 15% and 12% for females (10). It's amazing that even non-human characters beat out female representation! The article continues to reveal more startling numbers, but what the character roles showcase are interesting as well. Fair Play states that "half of all female characters were props or bystanders while male characters were predominantly competitors [and] female player controlled characters were less likely than males to be competitors and more likely to participate" (12). These character roles speak volumes about the stereotypes that are portrayed by video games, especially with the sexualization of women. The article stipulates that "one out of every ten female characters (11%) had a very voluptuous body (i.e. very large breasts and a very small waist) [and] another 7% of female characters had either very thin or extremely disproportionate bodies, meaning that nearly 20% of female characters modeled unhealthy or unrealistic body sizes" (13).

I have focused on the female aspect of gender because it directly correlates to the video game of choice, Lara Croft Tomb Raider. The article marks Lara Croft as a distinct female representation because only two games of the hundreds studied featured exclusively female choices (13). These two games were the two Tomb Raider titles that had appeared until the article's publication. Another relevant connection between the Fair Play article and Tomb Raider is the sexualization of Lara Croft. The author states, "Lara Croft's short shorts and extremely large breasts never keep her from accomplishing her mission" (15). Such is the way of females in video games, and it begs to question what sort of affect this has on the players. It is not only males that digest this female body type as the ideal woman, but females can also interpret this stereotype.

It is important that this type of study be continuously updated as video games are changing constantly. I would like to see they study completed once again, to truly see if video games are adapting to their environment, or if they will continue to be invaded by old stereotypes of gender conventions.

Lara Croft Tomb Raider: Anniversary

It has always been on my "to do" list, and there is no better time than the present to play Lara Croft Tomb Raider. The game I have chosen is the Anniversary edition of the Tomb Raider series. The game is a remake of the original Tomb Raider, Lara's first adventure, and also includes aspects of the Legend adventure as well. This Tomb Raider 10th Anniversary Edition includes familiar yet reinvented scenarios, new animations and play action more interactive than the original.

The Tomb Raider series focuses on British archaeologist Lara Croft. The original release in 1996 created a sensation with its portrayal of a female lead role, and her popularity continues, with the Guinness Book of World Records recognizing Lara Croft as the "Most Successful Human Videogame Heroine". I'm looking forward to taking all the information learned in class and applying it to Tomb Raider, especially with the importance of a lead female role.  The game will be challenging, but if Lara Croft can do it, I hope I can too.

Fabric of Oppression

Throughout our class we delved deep into four theories, but there were several, still important, theories that warrant more discussion. The fabric of oppression is another "theory of socialization that describes the structural arrangement of privileges, resources and power" (24). An interesting aspect of the article is the statement that this theory is a "liberal or left political understanding" (24). Now, I'm not a stanch supporter of the right wing movement, but I do not understand how this statement can be supported. This would definitely be an avenue that I would love to investigate.

From the fabric of oppression definition, I drew some parallels between this theory and the culture of power. The fabric of oppression is a "systematic phenomenon that creates some groups that are dominant or privileged by it and other groups that are targeted or oppressed by it" (24). Much like the culture of power, it is plausible to be in the dominant group and benefit, but not be aware or behave in a manner that is mean, prejudiced or hateful. In the same way, "one can be part of a targeted group without ever experiencing a hateful act" (24). Another key aspect that although one may belong in a dominant group does not guarantee wealth, power and success, but greatly improves the chances. On the other hand, being part of a targeted group, does not literally translate to failure, but once again increases the chance for it.

A key aspect of the fabric of oppression is that there is institutionalized oppression. This institutional oppression, which can be legal, illegal or self-perpetuating, is different from internalized oppression. This type of oppression occurs "when an individual takes the external misinformation, stereotypes and negative images" (26). This is never voluntary, but is a result of the mass misinformation given to the dominant group. What I found most interesting was the manner in which this misinformation is perpetuated, a process called hegemony. It is not through force,  but rather the values taught in religion, education and media institutions. The example of 1960s women not being forced to stay home, but thinking they needed to stay home, because they had been socialized to do so, actually frightened me. The 60s are not too far off . . . what in our society do we think is normal, but has actually just been socialized into us?

The most glaring part of the article was the bird cage diagram analogy. Applying the diagram to me, I am half and half of both groups. My gender (female), socioeconomic class (working class) and race (Latin) keep me in the bottom of the cage. While my sexual orientation (straight), bodily ability (able-bodied) and religion (agnostic) have me on the top of the cage. The line, "regardless of where any of us sits in this picture, we are all inside the cage", shook me up! It is once again vital for all of us to look inside and examine everything we have "thought" is right!

The Connections: Life, Knowledge & Media

What are your childhood memories of December holidays?
Do you remember green trees, Merry Christmas greetings, and mistletoe? 
                Or did you celebrate with a menorah, dreidels, or a kenora? 

These very relevant, and revealing, questions are the beginning of this week's article, The Connections: Life, Knowledge and Media. This article was different from previous articles in the manner it included both questions that delved into personal history, but also a very broad teaching of several theories that are applicable to this field. Most interesting were these theories, which elevate the topics of our class to another level, dare we say, to some high-caliber academia.

Looking back at the first questions, the article states that individual answers will be a "critical element in the establishment of your personal identity and your sense of where you belong in your neighborhood, school, community and culture" (8). Looking at it from a personal level, I was lucky to have had some cultural openness during the December holidays, since I attended a school with a large attendance of Jewish kids. Many a times I have played with dreidels ("Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay; and when it's dry and ready, the dreidel I shall play"), lit menorahs, and celebrated the eight days! In my opinion, nothing is better than that, since they receive a gift per day, not only one! The article continued to delve into more personal history, while at the same time punctuating the text with theories such as the Social Learning Theory, Social Self, Liberation Theory, Cultural Competence Theory, Fabric of Oppression and Cycle of Oppression. Along with these theories, the article delves into how individuals react to, and are shaped by, the media. This special arena is highly applicable to our class, as video games are an integral part of the media.

Intrigued by this idea, I thought of applying the questions in the article to video games. The first media activity asked the number of Asian American characters portrayed. Applying this to video games, I have played games with Asians, but not to the extent of other characters. Albeit, I am not saying they do not exist, but they are also not predominant. Another media activity of the article was the analysis of women's appearances. With the standards they showed, most of the characters that I have seen in video games are vixens or damsels, heavily buxom, petite waist, etc. Granted, I don't play an abundance of video games, so I began to question myself, and decided to do some research to back up my thesis. So far, what I have found, seems to support this stipulation. A NewScientist article states that compared with the US Census, the characters of video games are highly misrepresented. The article can be found in the Tech Section, but I am including the charts below.

It's interesting to note how the elderly are almost not represented at all, even though they are a growing number of video gamers! Also this data supports that white males are mostly represented in video games, with the last graph showcasing the stark difference between the representation of Hispanics and their population percentage.

Once again, we must reconstruct our knowledge of the world to accurately portray all individuals!

Prince of Persia

It was an interesting experience playing Prince of Persia, the 2003 video game, in class, and the only complaint I had was the time constraint really did not allow us to thoroughly explore the game. Of the game that the class did play, there were some obvious points toward the dominant culture. From the first scene, it is the powerful men, or warriors, on a quest through India, ready to protect. This is a culture dominated by men, and throughout the first couple of levels we played there was no mention of women, except one highly sexualized image. This is another instance of the power of culture in video games: the woman is a sexual image, only characterized by her body, not intelligence, skill, etc. A case can also be made for the manner in which the men themselves are portrayed, as they are all able-bodied warriors, and no examples are made for those that are handicapped, mentally or physically. It would have been great to have had more time to go deeper into the game, and be able to discover what other cultures occur in Prince of Persia.

Throughout my research online, I discovered that a movie version in set to release May 2010. It will be interesting to note how the movie and video game will compare. With an all-star cast of Jake Gyllenhaal and Ben Kingsley, this may be a hit in the making. Or just another flop! Only the sands of time will tell . . .

wii exercise class

The other day I was driving along, listening to NPR, and an oddity of a story came on. Not surprising, seeing as NPR always finds the most random & interesting news, but this one really had me going. In Houston, a university is setting up a class with 10 wii's for exercise. Students will earn credits and at the same time get "fit".

How cool is this? Do you think we can convince St. Thomas to add this?

Or on the other hand, is this just like Pikal from eXistenZ, who professed, "nobody skies anymore". Is the wii fit the future of exercise?

I added the link to the story. It's another great piece by NPR, and it gives more information about the program.

Race v. Ethnicity

Uh oh. Now the class is really heating up. A subject often deemed taboo, but essential to our society, is the question of what constitutes race and ethnicity. Are there similarities? Is there a difference? Could the two be one and the same, or are they on the opposite sides of the spectrum. In this week’s article Mapping the Terrain: Definitions, the author seeks to truly define race and ethnicity. The problem is, both terms have become so muddled and distorted, it is almost impossible to create a simple one-line definition. Both words have become part of our lexicon, but in many instances, not in a positive manner.

Race, if one were to truly define it not according to society’s distorted manner, is a purely biological term, stating that it is “a genetically distinct sub-population of a given species” (21). To me, this is how I see the world. Yes, we may have a range of skin shades, different body attributes, etc., but each and everyone is a human, with the same genetic coding. As a Latina, my DNA is no different than a white, black, Indian . . . anyone! Race seeks to have others defined, to put them into little categories, and keep them there, a vicious cycle of hierarchies, prejudices and lies. There is but one race: the human race.

The idea of ethnicity, with its emphasis on both “self” and “other” definitions, is a more positive way of describing the difference, and similarities, between groups. Granted, it also may become a question of power, but on the whole, I believe ethnicity does not wish to subjugate others in the manner race does. It mostly searches for a way to create a common ancestry among people, linking their cultural practices, historical expierences, or intergroup interaction (17).

The most important message I gathered from this subject is that it is all a creation of society, or a social construct. It really does make perfect sense, seeing that humans find nothing better to do but create new manners in which someone is better than another. Dr. Campbell’s anecdote of the Star Trek episode really hit home, especially with its powerful ending of the juxtaposition of the white half v. the black half. Even during the class, it was easy to see how this subject is so powerful, and meaningful to every individual. On the other hand, it is also apparent how easy it is to dismiss everyone’s individual experience. Every day, every person, deals with his or her own encounters. I do not know what other’s go through, just in the same manner they do not know what I go through. Who gave the right, to any individual, to judge what experience ranks higher? It is only by embracing every individual’s ideas that society has any way of actually moving forward.

Power Plays

I had never really thought of “margins” as anything but the 1-inch space that I had to place on every essay. After this article, I have an entirely new definition on what the word “margin” can really mean. In this week’s article, Paul Kivel asserts that our society operates on a Culture of Power, stating that “whenever one group of people accumulate more power than another group, the more powerful group creates an environment that places its member at the cultural center and other groups at the margins” (1). Hmmm . . . there’s that word again: margins. We’ve all gone through it, and no one can deny it. Even in its most basic form: high school. The cliques, the clubs: everything. We’ve all been the outsiders looking in. But Kivel asserts it’s more than that, it’s our entire lives. If one is not a white Christian male, one is, whether one likes it or not, at the margins. Whether it is ethnicity, gender and/or sexual orientation, each individual is at one time or another in the culture of power or in the group marginalized. If one is in the more dominant group, it is hard to see out of it, but if one is on the outside, it is wholly apparent the difference. The important matter is that everyone, whether in or out of the group, can be the factor that brings in change. As the author states, everyone is powerful in some way, and “we each must push every group we are a part of to move from a culture of power to a culture of inclusion” (6).

Now, what does any of this have to do with video games? Personally, it is apparent in how video games are marketed to mostly males. When Lara Croft was first introduced, it was revolutionary in its usage of a lead female role. It is hard to find many video games, in comparison to male roles, in which the female is not in distress, being beat up, or is a hooker. Even then, it is also apparent that males are still in control, by the body type Lara exudes: big breasts, tiny waist, and little clothes. There is a distinct correlation between the Culture of Power and the way video games are produced.

Play it. Live it. Kill for it.

Maybe Allegra should invest in an external hard drive, or at least a flash drive. It sure would have saved her and Ted some trouble. Alas, she did not, and so begins the story of Gellar and Pikal’s odd journey through her game, Existenz.



A David Cronenberg film, a director known for his, let’s just say, interesting movies, eXistenZ delves into the future of video games. A future in which one is not only playing the game, but actually in the game. To me, it is a not a distant future, but one that may be just around the corner. Each year, the consumer cries out for better graphics, more interactions, more, more, more. Each year, companies shell out more money to design games that will sedate the crowds. This simple concept of supply and demand acts as a foreshadowing of the future of video games.

Although it was not pretty to watch, actually downright disgusting, the concept of a video game plugging into the human body is highly intriguing. How else would one truly be in the game, if the body and the game system did not experience a physical connection? Another interesting concept was the game system itself, an actual living specimen from an amphibian source. Its ability to connect players, and shift reality, was thought provoking. It also seemed to ignite an addictive and sexual nature, with players craving to reenter the game world.

Inside the game world was another matter, an alternate reality that transitions seamlessly from actual reality. It transforms mere mortals into gods, as Gas, the mechanic states. ArtGod, another Allegra Geller game, imbues Gas with more vitality than genuine life ever will, for in this alternative he is god, God the Mechanic. How many of us crave such attention? Need such an adrenaline? It is easy to see how anyone and everyone would outfit their bodies with a bioport in order to enter such a world. As Allegra describes, it is real life that feels completely unreal; it is real life that feels like a game. And where is the line drawn? If the unreal feels real, and the real feels unreal, where is the distinction, where is the separation? How do you ever know you are out of the game? Reality bleeds through; it is a complete and utter merging of two worlds.

This probing of our society by Cronenberg solidified my opinion on the movie; unearthing questions that will have concrete standings in our future. Technology is so rampant in today’s society, so knit together, that sometimes it is impossible to decipher the beginning or the end. It will not be long before everyone is asking, “Are we still in the game?”